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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

News to Readers: You're Stupid!

Earlier today we posted about the sorry state of journalism in Alabama. You can't cover that topic without thinking of The Birmingham News.

The News, also known as "Pravda of the South" (thanks to Scott Horton, of Harper's.org), has been on a relentless campaign to show that the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was not politically motivated. The News also has done just about everything in its power to try to discredit Rainsville attorney Jill Simpson, who has testified under oath that Republican operatives devised a plan to "take care of" Siegelman.

The latest entry in the News' "We Would Never Question the Bush Justice Department World Tour" comes today from ace reporter Brett Blackledge, he of Pulitzer Prize fame.

We've ripped Blackledge several news ones here at Legal Schnauzer recently, but his effort today is so over the top that it almost leaves you breathless. If journalists had to be licensed, Blackledge would deserve to be charged with malpractice and have his license yanked. At the very least, the Pulitzer folks should reclaim their prize and say, "You have brought us shame."

Today's Blackledge masterpiece focuses on Charles Niven, a 26-year career prosecutor who served as acting U.S. attorney in Montgomery, supervising an investigation of the Siegelman administration from the summer of 2002 until 2003. Niven tells us that he is certain no political shenanigans were behind the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman.

To get a sense of just how absurd this story is, follow me on the timeline:

* Niven retires from the U.S. attorney's office in January 2003.

* At the time of his retirement, Niven says, he saw no evidence that would link Siegelman to any wrongdoing. But he adds: "There could have been a tremendous amount of evidence uncovered after I left."

* The Siegelman trial begins in May 2006.

So there you have it: Niven swears there was no political pressure involving the Siegelman case, Niven retires in January 2003, the Siegelman trial begins in May 2006 (a fact the News conveniently doesn't mention until well into the story jump). If my math is correct, we have a 3 1/2-year gap, a gap during which Niven admits he knows nothing about the Siegelman case.

Niven says he doesn't know what new evidence might have been uncovered in 3 1/2 years. But here's what the News doesn't tell you: He also could not know about any political pressure that might have come from the Bush White House during that time.

Oops, big hole in story. Never mind, we'll run it anyway.

I know I'm sounding like a parrot with Tourette syndrome, but I've just got to mention this again. For about the sixth or eighth time in a row, the News uses the same strategy on these puff pieces about the Bush DOJ: Start story in lower right-hand corner of front page, slap on dramatic headline and misleading lead graph, jump to inside page, and hope non-comatose readers don't notice the story is limp (at best).

The honchos at the News must figure readers will look at the headline and the lead graph, then stop reading and say, "Dang, that crook Siegelman shore got what was a comin' to him."

Here's what I figure: The News honchos must think their readers are stupid, real stupid.

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